Two years ago, David McDonald was devastated after his beloved West Highland terrier, Miss Winkles, was bitten by a snake and later died in his arms.
Now the former Pelco chief executive has found a way to memorialize his cherished dog -- with a $2 million donation that will help build an animal shelter in Clovis that will bear Miss Winkles' name.
The city has been making plans since 2006 for a $4.1 million facility that would expand its Villa Avenue shelter to more than 15,500 square feet -- a size considered appropriate for a city of 100,000. But construction has been delayed for lack of funds.
Though another $1 million remains to be raised, McDonald's donation will allow the Clovis City Council to put the shelter on the fast track. Monday night, council members will discuss building the facility early next year.
"I think it's a fantastic contribution," Council Member Nathan Magsig said. "It's critical for us to move forward. This facility needs to be built sooner rather than later."
Clovis now houses stray and adoptable animals in less than 6,000 square feet in several buildings spread out near Letterman Park.
McDonald, 61, who lives east of Clovis, said he was compelled to help after the loss of Miss Winkles, who died about two years ago at age 3.
"After Miss Winkles died, I thought of what I could do to memorialize her short, beautiful life," he said. "My interest was to permanently memorialize her."
McDonald, who owns two other West Highland terriers and two Labrador retrievers, had not realized Miss Winkles had been bitten by a poisonous snake until the day after it occurred. That was when her health quickly deteriorated.
"I had her in my arms ready to go to the vet" when she died, he said.
But Miss Winkles was not the only reason he wanted to help.
Before her death, he said, he had known about the nonprofit agency, Friends of the Clovis Pet Adoption Center, which was created to help build a Clovis shelter.
He visited the shelter several times and observed how the staff treated the animals.
He learned that in some cases, staff members take dogs and cats into their homes to improve the animals' health or get them acclimated for adoption if there is no room in the shelter.
He said their care and respect for the animals was "inspiring."
Each year, about 3,500 animals are taken to the Clovis shelter, and the only animals euthanized are those too sick to recover or those that are not able to be adopted because they cannot become good pets.
"Miss Winkles was the catalyst to move this forward," he said. "But the caliber of the management made it a cinch for me to get this project off the ground."
McDonald said the project also will include a dog park, a first for Clovis.
Philanthropy is not new for McDonald. Under his leadership, Pelco -- which makes video and security equipment -- moved to Clovis and grew to become the largest manufacturer in Fresno County.
In addition, Pelco made a commitment to charity -- most notably the company's annual Toys for Tots campaign, its memorial to the victims and survivors of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and support of Measure Z, the sales tax to fund Fresno Chaffee Zoo.
Founded in 1957, Pelco moved from Gardena to Fresno in 1982, then to Clovis five years later. In 1987, when McDonald and his team took over, Pelco had 100 employees.
Pelco was sold to France-based Schneider Electric in 2007 and McDonald retired last year. The company has about 1,800 employees in Clovis today.
McDonald said he hopes his donation for the animal shelter spurs others to pitch in as well. The city is seeking grants and planning other fund-raising efforts as it tries to raise $1 million more to cover the shelter's remaining cost.
McDonald said the animal shelter nonprofit agency is expected to pay the construction costs even though the city is lending about half the construction money to the nonprofit so it can be built sooner.
"The city's participation is to get the funds in place to do this right away," he said. "The nonprofit needs to raise the funds to repay the city."
The city set aside $1 million for a shelter, and the nonprofit agency was created to help raise funds to pay for the facility. The nonprofit sponsors a dinner each August and has raised about $80,000 in two years, Mayor Harry Armstrong said.
Clovis city leaders were excited to learn about McDonald's donation and the opportunity to build the much-needed facility.
Council Member Lynne Ashbeck said the project has not developed as quickly as others in Clovis because of difficult financial times and other budget priorities. She described McDonald's donation as "extraordinary."
A study done earlier this year said the city needs about 16,500 square feet of space, and the shelter is being built with room for expansion, including a medical area.
"This is the culmination of a dream come true," said Clovis city manager Kathy Millison. "You only need to visit our facilities for five seconds to realize that a new shelter is sorely needed."